Art As Enviro—Activism — Is It Provocative Enough To The Message Across?


What on earth is that weird collection of images about I hear you say? Well my friends this is Art. TreeHugger usually focuses more on eco-design and sustainable technologies than art, but with Simon Starling and his fuel cell powered bicycle recently winning the Turner Prize the environment is becoming a big subject in the contemporary art world. Usually when we think about Environmental Art we think about the use of natural materials set in and around nature. There are similar stereotypes for aesthetics in eco-art as there are in eco-design and, although we don't like to subscribe to pigeonholing, it can be associated more with crafts than academic art. Typical environmental art (not in a derogatory sense) can be seen in the work of artists like, Richard Long, Andy Goldsworthy and Julienne Dolphin Wilding. However it appears that it's not just TreeHugger which likes to battle against eco-stereotypes, because there is a new theme emerging in contemporary art which can be described as art as Environmental Activism. A very interesting article on Green Futures addresses this subject.Hannah Bullock writes: ' When artist Mark McGowan turned on the tap in a London gallery and announced that it would flow for a year, several visitors angrily turned it off, and Thames Water threatened to cut the gallery's supply. "I tried to waste 15 million litres, but I only managed 800,000," a disappointed McGowan told Green Futures. His next stunt — a car left running inside a gallery, with the exhaust pumped into the adjacent square — pointed the finger at parents who leave the engine idling while waiting for the kids outside school. The experiment came to an end after only two days, when the leaking fumes inside the gallery got too strong. "McGowan's projects are set up to reach a level of outrage whereby it has to stop," explains John Carson, head of fine art at Central St Martins College of Art and Design. The artist himself says that creating anger is how he gets the message across: "I aim to create a resistance against the way things are normally done. If you say you're going to tackle climate change or pollution, everyone's going to say 'Isn't that in the newspaper?' But if you say: 'What I'm going to do is put this car in Peckham, where it's going to pump exhaust into a public space,' people say: 'That's disgusting!'"

Bullock goes on to discuss other artists who, rather than embracing nature, are addressing more complex environmental issues of consumerism, pollution and energy consumption, through provocative art works. Many people often find contemporary art difficult to digest, wondering what it is all about, and frankly what is the point if it. But when art addresses issues in our society so directly and reflects human behaviour in an abstract context it can be an effective way of getting the message across. By taking daily actions out of context and reintroducing them as abstract interventions artists are feeding us information in a new and different way. These pieces not only get people talking, which is a good thing, but also make them angry, even better, and then hopefully, just maybe, they might make people re-evaluate their own behaviour. Thanks to Tippster Kate.
:: Green Futures article